Obama, Biden visit Norwegian diplomats to express condolences for massacre

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) – U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday visited the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Norway in Washington, D.C. to offer their condolences to the people of Norway after the deadly massacre last Friday.

Obama and Biden briefly went to the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Barry White, to sign a condolence book. “The First Lady and Dr. (Jill) Biden asked the President and Vice President to deliver their own hand-written condolence letters,” a White House official said.

Accordingly, Obama wrote in the condolence book: “To the people of Norway – we are heartbroken by the tragic loss of so many people, particularly youth with the fullness of life ahead of them. No words can ease the sorrow but please know that the thoughts and prayers of all Americans are with the people of Norway, and that we will stand beside you every step of the way.”

Biden wrote: “To the people of Norway – It is beyond my capacity to fully comprehend the scope of the tragedy for the families of these innocent beautiful children, and the people of Norway my – our – hearts ache for you. God bless the children.”

Obama and Biden also met briefly with the Minister Counselor for Political Affairs, Berit Enge, given that the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Barry White, is in Norway for the moment. “We’re devastated by it, but we will stand with you,” Obama said to the small group of Norwegian officials.

The attacks in Norway happened on Friday afternoon when 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik is accused of setting off a car bomb in the Government quarter in Oslo, killing at least eight people and injuring 30 others. He then allegedly went on a shooting spree on Utoya island where the Labour Party’s annual Workers’ Youth League (AUF) youth summer camp was being held, killing 68 people and injuring 67 others.

Bomb blast wounds five UN Blue Helmets in Lebanon

UNITED NATIONS (BNO NEWS) — A bomb blast in southern Lebanon on Tuesday has wounded five soldiers from the French contingent patrol serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), officials said.

UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said the blast hit a convoy of the UNIFIL near Sidon, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the capital Beirut and 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of the UNIFIL base at Naqoura, near the Lebanese border with Israel.

According to preliminary reports, five soldiers were wounded, and three of them were taken to a hospital. Tuesday’s attack is the second assault on UNIFIL peacekeepers since late May when a roadside bomb injured six Italian peacekeepers and two Lebanese civilians.

The United States condemned the attack on the UNIFIL patrol and said it will continue to support the Force’s mandate. “We call on the Government of Lebanon to conduct a full investigation into the incident and ensure the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice,” said Heide Bronke Fulton, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.

British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, said he is ‘deeply concerned’ about another attack against a UNIFIL patrol. “It is in the interest of all parties to ensure that UNIFIL is able to fulfil its duties unhindered,” Burt said.

UNIFIL has been deployed to the area since 1978 when tension along the Israel-Lebanon border increased. UNIFIL was originally created to confirm Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security and assist the Lebanese Government in restoring its effective authority in the area.

Since the 2006 crisis, the Council enhanced the Force to monitor the cessation of hostilities, accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the south of Lebanon and extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.

As of March 2011, 293 UNIFIL personnel have been killed in Lebanon, including 277 troops, two military observers, eight international civilians and six local civilians. Last August the Security Council extended UNIFIL’s mandate for at least one year, until August 31, 2011.

At least 52 dead in past 5 days of target killings in Karachi, Pakistan

KARACHI, PAKISTAN (BNO NEWS) — At least 52 deaths have been reported in the latest target killings in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi during the past five days, officials said Tuesday.

Clashes began between two armed groups in the volatile area of Ghulfamabad, Orangi Town, as the armed men exchanged fire, forcing locals to seek refuge and shut down businesses, the Express Tribune reported.

Violence spread to several parts of Karachi including Gulistan-e-Jauhar where three people were fatally shot, as another body was found in a sack in Orangi Town’s Mominabad Faqir Colony in Karachi’s latest incidents.

Meanwhile, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said administrative and political action had to ensure peace in the region. He also called for removing reservations of all political parties to improve law and order in the city, where parties should prioritize establishing peace and stability. Shah also confirmed that several people involved in the target killings had been arrested.

Almost two weeks ago, at least 14 people were killed in Karachi as violence erupted throughout the city following the statements on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) made by Zulfiqar Mirza of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Mirza said MQM leader Altaf Hussain was “100 times a bigger criminal” than MQM-Haqiqi leader Afaq Ahmed.

Earlier in the month, around 100 people were killed after several days of widespread violence in Karachi. The violence and killings have been largely blamed on rival political parties MQM and Awami National Party (ANP), which represent different ethnic groups, prompting government officials to issue a ‘shoot-at-sight’ order to security forces.

On June 27, MQM parted ways with PPP after more than three years due to a dispute over the past Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) elections in Karachi. MQM’s split triggered fears of violence, and last week, an opposition coalition against the ruling PPP was formed by rival parties MQM and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

MQM said that the PPP government’s “dictatorial and undemocratic” approach prompted its separation from the coalition, and the two former rival parties – PML-N and MQM – set aside their differences and decided to work together “in the best interest of the country,” as said by MQM’s Haider Abbas Rizvi.

MQM and PPP, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, had previously formed a coalition government in 2008. Earlier in the year, MQM, which has 25 seats in the 342-member Parliament, left the coalition, only to rejoin a few weeks later.

EU approves Lenovo’s acquisition of Medion

BRUSSELS (BNO NEWS) — The European Union (EU) announced on Tuesday that its Commission has approved computer tech group Lenovo’s acquisition of Medion.

Under the EU Merger Regulation, the Commission concluded after reviewing the operation that there will still be strong and effective competitors in the market after the merger between Germany’s electronic equipment supplier Medion and China-based Lenovo.

“The Commission’s assessment revealed that Lenovo and Medion combined market shares are generally moderate and that a number of credible competitors will remain active for those products,” the EU said.

In addition, it explained that the main impact of the proposed operation would be in the PC markets in Germany and in Denmark, in particular for desktop and portable PCs. However, the combined market shares of the merged entity remain moderate and it will continue to face strong and effective competitors such as Acer, HP or Asus.

The Commission’s examination showed that the parties’ activities overlap for desktop and portable PCs, PC monitors and certain computer accessories and peripherals. As a result, the Commission concluded that the agreement would not significantly impede effective competition in the European Economic Area or any substantial part of it.

Lenovo is a Chinese manufacturer of desktop and notebook PCs, workstations, servers, storage drives and IT management software, and a provider of IT services.

According to media reports, Lenovo would be acquiring Medion – which produces displays, memory and storage devices and printers among other electronic equipment – for approximately $ 900 million, although the Chinese company had initially value the transaction at about $ 600 million last month.

The Commission, in 1989, was given the power to assess mergers and acquisitions involving companies with a turnover above certain thresholds Its duty is to prevent concentrations that would significantly impede effective competition in the European Economic Area or any substantial part of it.

FAA suspends more nationwide aviation projects

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday announced additional “stop work orders” throughout the nation for the second day, as Congress failed to pass legislation on Friday giving the FAA the authority necessary for work to continue.

After Congress failed to pass an FAA bill, dozens of major projects ranging from long-term runway safety, initiatives to NextGen air traffic control, research, and testing for critical modernization projects around the country were ordered to stop.

“I am making a simple and straightforward request to Congress: pass a clean FAA bill and immediately put thousands of FAA employees, construction workers, planners and engineers across America to work,” stated U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “In these tough economic times, we can ill afford to lay off hard-working Americans whose families depend on them,” he added.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbit, meanwhile, described Congressional inaction as “serious” and with “real world implications” because citizens around the country are out of work and the FAA cannot conduct necessary work to keep aviation systems competitive and moving forward.

On Monday, the FAA made its first announcements regarding the immediate stop of aviation projects, which included a $ 370 million-contract with Jacobs Engineering of Pasadena, California and several other projects around the country worth well over $ 145 million, including construction projects to build and modernize control towers and other aviation infrastructures.

Other projects include research and testing in areas ranging from General Aviation and fire safety to navigation, weather and voice communication. In addition, almost 4,000 FAA employees in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were furloughed on Saturday.

In addition to the FAA’s aviation construction projects around the country, the lack of an FAA authorization has affected other airport projects through the Airport Improvement Program. The FAA is also unable to get roughly $ 2.5 billion out the door for airport projects in all 50 states that could put thousands of people to work in paying jobs.

The FAA underlined, however, that air safety for the public would not be compromised.

Tropical Storm Juaning kills at least 10 in the Philippines

MANILA (BNO NEWS) — At least ten people were killed on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Juaning brought strong winds and heavy rains to parts of the northeastern Philippines, the government said. Several others remain missing.

As of 9 p.m. local time, the center of Juaning was located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) north-northwest of Daet, a 1st class municipality in the province of Camarines Norte. It is moving toward the west-northwest at a speed of 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) per hour and Juaning is expected to make landfall in southern and central Luzon on Wednesday, posing a threat to the capital of Manila.

As of 11 p.m. local time, the maximum sustained winds of Juaning had increased to 85 kilometers (52 miles) per hour near the center with gusts up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical & Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

According to Benito Ramos, the Executive Director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), at least 10 people were killed as a result of Juaning by late Tuesday afternoon. Five fishermen remain missing, four of whom have been missing since Sunday.

The deadliest incident so far was reported in the village of Gabon in Albay province where a landslide killed at least seven people, including three children aged 4, 7, and 10. Other landslides were reported elsewhere in the region, but caused no casualties.

In Catanduanes province, a 49-year-old man was killed in the municipality of Viga when he was hit by an electric post. And a 50-year-old man was killed in the municipality of Bagamanok when he drowned.

In Iloilo province, the body of an unidentified male was recovered who went missing on Sunday while attempting to cross a river. NDRRMC gave no other details about the death but attributed the casualty to bad weather which later became Juaning.

Also on Tuesday, a boat called Nena Linda 3 with 28 passengers on board sank in rough weather after leaving Buenavista in Guimaras province for Iloilo City in Iloilo province. A total of 22 passengers suffered minor injuries while five others were hospitalized with more serious injuries.

In the municipality of Mulanay in Quezon province, more than 900 people were forced to evacuate due to flooding. And more than 20 flights across the region were canceled due to bad weather conditions.

Japan seeks tax increase to raise $131 billion for reconstruction efforts

TOKYO, JAPAN (BNO NEWS) — The government of Japan on Tuesday announced that it is considering raising the country’s taxes by 10.3 trillion yen ($ 131 billion) in order to help collect the necessary reconstruction funds following March’s catastrophic earthquake, Kyodo News reported.

The tax increase would be carried out during a five-year plan, as the Japanese government also looks to raise some 200 billion yen ($ 2.56 billion) with the sale of its shareholdings in subway operator Tokyo Metro Co. and other state-owned assets.In addition, government officials will be cutting down on policy spending in order to create an additional fund of 2.4 trillion yen ($ 30.7 billion) over four years from fiscal 2012.

Japan has been trying to incorporate all of its proposed strategies for reconstruction efforts and set up a basic guideline by the end of the month, as it has set 10-year reconstruction period, which will require around 80 percent of the country’s expenditures during the first five years of this period – 19 trillion yen of the 23 trillion yen ($ 243.4 billion to $ 294.6 billion). However, a nationwide tax increase is likely to be highly criticized.

Japan has been facing an ongoing nuclear crisis since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was severely damaged on March 11 when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a subsequent tsunami devastated the country. The disaster disabled the cooling systems of the plant, and radioactive elements leaked into the sea and were later found in water, air and food products in some parts of Japan. Subsequent power shortages throughout the country have further complicated recovery efforts.

At least 23,482 people were killed, while 8,069 people remain missing. There are still more than 88,000 people who are staying in shelters in 21 prefectures around Japan.

According to the Japan Research Institute, the country’s reconstruction efforts will cost between 14 trillion yen ($ 174.58 billion) and 18 trillion yen ($ 224.46 billion) in the upcoming 10 years, including 9.1 trillion yen ($ 113.47 billion) this year alone. Japan has already allocated a 4 trillion yen ($ 48.89 billion) emergency budget to finance the early phase of reconstruction efforts following the disaster.

On June 23, the government also announced a budget of 2 trillion yen ($ 24.8 billion) to be distributed to cover the massive compensation claims since the beginning of the disaster being faced by Tepco, which operates the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

South Sudan accuses Sudan of launching ‘economic war’

JUBA (BNO NEWS) — The Southern Sudanese government has accused Sudan of launching an ‘economic war’ after it suddenly introduced a new currency which will cost South Sudan at least 700 million U.S. dollar.

South Sudan became the world’s newest country when it broke away from Sudan on July 9 following decades of civil war that left millions dead. The new nation has since been formally accepted as a Member State of the United Nations.

But a sudden move by Sudan to introduce a new version of the Sudanese Pound has angered South Sudan which is still transitioning to the South Sudanese Pound. “Sudan has declared an economic war on South Sudan,” said South Sudanese Peace Minister Hon Pagan Amum.

Hon Amum, who is also the Secretary General of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), claimed Sudan is hostile to the new country and is ‘hell-bent’ to crush its economy. He said Sudan had previously agreed not to issue a new currency until six months after the South did.

As a result of the new currency being issued in the North, the South has shortened the currency conversion period for its citizens to 1.5 months until September 1. Any Sudanese Pounds which have not been exchanged by that date will be rendered valueless, the government warned on Tuesday.

Hon Amum said the North does no longer recognize its previous agreement to let the South return the Sudanese Pounds after its transition period. This, according to the minister, will cost the nation at least 700 million U.S. dollar.

“The release of the currency by the North is intended to destroy the economy of the Republic of South Sudan; they do not want to take responsibility of the old currency,” Hon Amum said, describing the North’s action as ‘hostile’ and adding that it would hurt both countries.

UPDATE 2 — At least 35 people killed in Morocco military plane crash, scores missing

GUELMIM, MOROCCO (BNO NEWS) — A large military transport plane carrying more than 70 people crashed into a mountain in southern Morocco on Tuesday morning, local media reported, killing at least half of them.

A brief news report from the state-run Maghreb Arab Presse (MAP) news agency said the C-130 Hercules transport plane crashed into a mountainous area about eight kilometers (4.9 miles) from the city of Guelmim. It said ‘dozens’ of people were killed but did not say how many were on board the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces (FAR) plane.

But a report from the goud.ma news portal said the aircraft was carrying more than 70 people. It said more than 35 people were killed while at least five people survived, although their conditions were reported to be ‘very serious.’

MAP said the aircraft was coming from Dakhla and was en-route to Kenitra when it crashed into the mountain. Witnesses said a large number of rescue workers were responding to the accident.

Tuesday’s accident is the country’s worst since at least August 1994 when Royal Air Maroc Flight 630 crashed about 32 kilometers (20 miles) north of Agadir, killing 44 people including a Kuwaiti prince. Officials ruled the plane was deliberately crashed by the pilot, although these findings have been disputed.

The worst aviation accident in the country’s history happened in August 1975 when a Boeing 707 operated by Alia Royal Jordanian Airlines crashed into a mountain on approach to Inezgane Airport. All 188 people on board were killed.